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Books, no Pullman or Lewis

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  • David Lenander
    Apropos of nothing that s been discussed here lately (not that I ve really kept up lately, being busy with other things and Life), I wanted to recommend a
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 6, 2001
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      Apropos of nothing that's been discussed here lately (not that I've really kept up lately, being busy with other things and Life), I wanted to recommend a couple of books and commend the critical acumen of David Bratman. I've recently accused David of being too much like Tolkien and hating everything (who said that about JRRT?). So I looked up a couple of books that I recall him recommending and read them in the past couple of
      weeks. (I really didn't have time for this but somehow, once I'd started them I finished them. This may have something to do with the fact that neither book is any longer than it need be--or any shorter).

      Oddly, despite my recommendation here, I was rather disappointed in _The Land of Laughs_, by Jonathan Carroll. Only because having started it, and finding it well-written, and remembering the positive comments from David and others, I started expecting a truly Great Book, which it's not. But, despite a cheap (but appropriate and well-fitting) ending, this book is an unpretentious and solid work of art. Some of the premises are
      similar to other books that have been built around imaginary children's fantasy classics, like last year's MFA finalist, _Dark Cities Underground_, by Lisa Goldstein. But the book turns out to be more unlike those other books, actually in a turn to a more mundane and less magical story. It also reminded me a bit of some of John Fowles' books, like _The Magus_ but without all the artistic pretentions (which I like in Fowles, I'm
      just trying to be descriptive, here). Maybe I'm mostly thinking of the protagonist/narrator, who reminds me of some of Fowles's callow protagonists. Mostly, I don't like these men very well, even if I recognize the truth in the portrayals--this may account for my lessened appreciation for this book. It is the portrayals of characters, all in the service of the clever, logically worked-out fantasy premise, that raise this book
      up--and probably its fine and well-chosen diction and style--from other books. Alas, the fantasy premise actually detracts from what is good here, as if the author is a captive to the working out of the mechanical plot. It's not that I wasn't surprised by the ending (I wasn't), surprise wouldn't have been enough to redeem the clever but obvious ending, which isn't much more than wish-fulfillment, and which offers nothing more in
      the way of ideas than the closing of a trap.

      The other book, which I think maybe Berni also recommended, was the aforementioned Lisa Goldstein's _A Mask for the General_. This is a lovely and sensitive portrayal of people living under a dictatorship that in its focus on interactions of characters never gives up anything in treating Big Ideas, without (I think) ever preaching. It is not as brilliant or magnificent as Pat Murphy's _The City, Not Long After_, which it
      resembles in a number of respects, but it may actually be more artistically complete and perfect. (It also reminds me of Megan Lindholm's _Wizard of the Pigeons_). In contrast to Carroll's book, the ending here is also the springing of a trap, but one that seems to simultaneously open and free both its captive and the story's reader. I find that this book is haunting me.

      mythsoc@yahoogroups.com wrote:

      >

      --

      David Lenander

      e-mail: d-lena@... web-page: http://umn.edu/~d-lena/BreeMoot.html
    • David S. Bratman
      ... You re welcome. I have indeed recommended these books. ... I wouldn t have described it as a Great Book. A literary tour de force is what I think I said
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 6, 2001
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        At 10:03 AM 3/6/2001 , David Lenander wrote:

        >Apropos of nothing that's been discussed here lately (not that I've really
        >kept up lately, being busy with other things and Life), I wanted to
        >recommend a couple of books and commend the critical acumen of David
        >Bratman. I've recently accused David of being too much like Tolkien and
        >hating everything (who said that about JRRT?). So I looked up a couple of
        >books that I recall him recommending and read them in the past couple of
        >weeks.

        You're welcome. I have indeed recommended these books.

        >Oddly, despite my recommendation here, I was rather disappointed in _The
        >Land of Laughs_, by Jonathan Carroll. Only because having started it, and
        >finding it well-written, and remembering the positive comments from David
        >and others, I started expecting a truly Great Book, which it's not.

        I wouldn't have described it as a Great Book. A literary tour de force is
        what I think I said at the time it was published.

        >Some of the premises are
        >similar to other books that have been built around imaginary children's
        >fantasy classics, like last year's MFA finalist, _Dark Cities Underground_,
        >by Lisa Goldstein.

        It's worth remembering that _Land of Laughs_ long predates _Dark Cities
        Underground_, and might even have influenced it. And other books of that
        kind. Also, I got a distinct sense of the style and quality of Carroll's
        imaginary children's fantasy classics. I did not get such a sense of
        Goldstein's.

        Your description which follows (which I'm not quoting here) is a good and
        thoughtful one. What most attracted me to the book was the slow and awful
        (in both senses) unveiling of the fantasy nature of the situation in the
        middle of the book. I don't think a fantasy needs to be all-fantasy to be
        good, and much of _Land of Laughs_ is not. That grounding makes the
        fantasy parts all the more effective.

        The ending is oversold, undertold, and frustrating, all at once.

        >The other book, which I think maybe Berni also recommended, was the
        >aforementioned Lisa Goldstein's _A Mask for the General_. This is a lovely
        >and sensitive portrayal of people

        Good description.

        >living under a dictatorship that in its
        >focus on interactions of characters never gives up anything in treating Big
        >Ideas, without (I think) ever preaching. It is not as brilliant or
        >magnificent as Pat Murphy's _The City, Not Long After_, which it
        >resembles in a number of respects, but it may actually be more artistically
        >complete and perfect.

        Apologies if I've mentioned this before, but both the Goldstein and the
        Murphy are part of an unusual three-author trilogy, of which the third book
        is _Vanishing Point_ by Michaela Roessner. All three books are set in the
        Bay Area, and all are about communities of artists who grow up in the ruins
        of fallen modern civilization. But they have no connection in plot or
        characters. (Civilization falls differently in each book.) They're all
        really fine novels, the author's best in each case. They all exist
        somewhere between fantasy and science-fiction: Roessner's is perhaps the
        closest to sf.

        David Bratman
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